Rose returns to Open Championship a major champion with new perspective
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
There Justin Rose sat, in the Royal Box at Wimbledon for the men’s final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic earlier this month, being interviewed about the pressure his fellow Brit was facing as he carried 77 years’ worth of a nation’s weight on his shoulders.
Oh, how life has changed for Rose.
Fifteen years ago, he carried the hope of a homeland, too. The story has been well-documented by now: Rose holed out for birdie from 50 yards on the final hole at Royal Birkdale to finish in a tie for fourth at The Open Championship. He was just 17 years old and an amateur. He turned professional the following day then proceeded to miss his next 21 cuts.
“I was so young and hadn’t done anything in the game,” Rose recalls. “I had no choice but to dig in and commit myself.”
The Englishman would eventually find his footing but it wouldn’t be the last misstep of career. By 2005, he was plummeting in the Official World Golf Ranking, falling out of the top 100 by the middle of the year. After going back and forth on which tour he should stick to, he decided to shift his focus back to Europe -- until a couple of good performances late in the year helped him maintain his status in the United States after all.
“The Open Championship was the skewing factor for so long,” Rose said. “It created expectation and pressure that I wasn’t ready to handle. If I take the Open out of it, I achieved this, that and the other.
“Surely things have to work out in the long run. I was able to get strength from the small victories -- if I shot 75 one week and 73 the next, I would tell myself I was getting better. That was a huge key to digging out of the hole.”
The turning point didn’t come in earnest, though, until 2010, when Rose won at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance then again a month later at AT&T National. Both were impressive given the quality of competition and the legitimacy of the location.
He added the BMW Championship and World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship in the coming seasons. All that was missing was the Big One: His first major.
That’s when the text arrived, earlier this year sometime after the Masters. It read, simply, “This is your time, this is our time, to win these tournaments.” The sender was Adam Scott, who had just become the first Australian to win the Green Jacket.
There’s always been a certain closeness between the two, even though one was from Australia and the other England via South Africa. Rose and Scott were born two weeks apart in the summer of 1980 and had come up through the ranks together first in Europe and then the PGA TOUR.
“It meant a lot to hear from Adam,” Rose said. “It was basically now or never. I think that’s what he figured out and he thought my game was ready.
“The way he was able to play down the stretch at Augusta was so impressive. He swung freely and was committed to every shot. When you’re watching and you haven’t achieved that level of success you wonder if you’re capable of it. You try to kid yourself and believe in yourself, but not until you do it do you know.”
Hunter Mahan’s words were more direct after Rose had done it last month at Merion.
“I think Justin technically is probably the best player in the game,” he said. “I mean that from the putting, to bunker game, short game, swing, everything he does is so -- it's definitely I think the best.”
High praise, especially from one of your chief competitors, right after you just beat him to win your first career major. But it was more than hyperbole. Even Mahan’s coach, Sean Foley -- who also happens to preside over Rose’s game, along with that of the No. 1 player in the world, Tiger Woods – calls Rose his most talented player all the way through the bag.
“It's just so flawless when you see him and watch him play,” Mahan continued to gush. “And he makes the game look really easy sometimes.”
The shot Rose struck into the final hole of this year’s U.S. Open was anything but.
With the tournament hanging in the balance as Phil Mickelson made a mess of things behind him, Rose struck a perfect 4-iron off a hook lie into a green that ran away from him with the wind coming off the right.
The ball trundled off the back of the putting surface but left Rose with an easy-ish up-and-down on the hardest hole on the golf course.
“He played it perfectly,” Woods said.
But it was Scott’s text and what he witnessed the Aussie do at Augusta that stuck with Rose, especially at the critical hour.
“The way I see Adam, and I take a lot of confidence from this, is how he dealt with the heartbreak,” he said of Scott, who like Rose had offered so much promise so early in his career, even drawing comparisons to Woods. “Adam lost the Open and came back a couple majors later and won the Masters.
“It hit me really at the U.S. Open that if you're not willing to experience the heartache and heartbreak of losing a major, then you can't really truly play your best stuff and be free enough in the moment to get it done. I was good with the fact that you just have to put yourself in that moment time and time again, and be willing to just keep knocking down the door.”
Now as Rose heads to Muirfield, where he finished 22nd the last time the Open was held there in 2002, he has a whole new outlook from that day 15 years ago when the golf world was at his feet.
“It has made me believe in myself, that I wasn’t kidding myself as a kid,” Rose said. “Majors and Ryder Cups and tournaments, those are dreams you have as a kid. I’m now not a million miles away from all that.
“Being a major champion is a bit of a relief because sometimes you don’t know if it’s going to happen. If I could motivate myself and dedicate myself to a Hall-of-Fame career, whatever would qualify for that, might be a nice goal for me. It would be a moment where I can look back and say, ‘I did that.’”